Who Owns Codex Sinaticus? How the Monks at Mt. Sinai Got Conned -- By: Hershel Shanks

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 21:2 (Spring 2008)
Article: Who Owns Codex Sinaticus? How the Monks at Mt. Sinai Got Conned
Author: Hershel Shanks


Who Owns Codex Sinaticus?
How the Monks at Mt. Sinai Got Conned

Hershel Shanks

The Codex Sinaiticus contains the oldest complete copy of the New Testament—from the mid-fourth century. Originally it contained the Old Testament too, but most of that is now missing.

The Codex Sinaiticus is one of the big three—not Ford, GM and Chrysler, but Sinaiticus, Vaticanus and Alexandrinus—fourth- or fifth-century codices of the Septuagint (a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible) that include the New Testament as well. Vacticanus is at the

PREVIOUS PAGE: At the center of controversy is this fourth-century Greek manuscript. Known as the Codex Sinaiticus, this document from St. Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai is one of the earliest extant copies of the Septuagint and the earliest complete New Testament. The text is written in uncial Greek script, a capital-letter form also called majuscule, as opposed to miniscule. Each page measures approximately 16 inches tall by 14 inches wide and is divided into four columns. Only about 400 of the more than 730 original leaves survive-and these are currently located in four different countries: Great Britain, Germany, Egypt and Russia. A massive cooperative project is now underway at all four institutions that own parts of the codex to accomplish the conservation and digitization of the manuscript and to investigate the fascinating modern history of the codex that led to one of Mt. Sinai’s greatest treasures being scattered throughout the Western world.

Vatican. Alexandrinus is at the British Library. And Sinaiticus is, well, in four different places. And thereby hangs my tale.

Each venue of Sinaiticus maintains that it owns the part that resides there. The major part is at the British Library (formerly part of the British Museum) in London. A lesser part is at the University Library of Leipzig. A few fragments are in St. Petersburg at the Russian National Library. Finally, the monks of St. Catherine’s Monastery at Mt. Sinai, where it all or discovered a few more monks would like it all back.

The principal actor in drama is a German scholar named Constantin von Tischendorf (commonly

SCHOLAR, TRAVELER AND NEGOTIATOR Constantin von Tischendorf undertook an international quest in the mid-19th century to uncover important ancient Biblical manuscripts. His travels led him to St. Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai, where he discovered ancient parchment leaves-later to be known collectively as the Codex Sinaiticus-supposedly destined for the fire. In the course of...

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